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Thayer Consultancy Background Briefing:

ABN # 65 648 097 123


USS Theodore Roosevelt to Visit
Da Nang, Vietnam
Carlyle A. Thayer
March 2, 2020

We’ve been informed that the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-17) will visit Da Nang this
week. We request your assessment of the following questions:
Q1. The U.S Navy is increasing its presence in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly the
South China Sea. Remarks by U.S officials imply this surge aims to counter China’s
aggressive behavior in the region. What role will this carrier visit play in this strategy?
ANSWER: The United States in various strategic policy documents has identified China
as a rival and competitor. In 2019, the U.S. stepped up its rhetoric and called out
China for bullying and intimidation in the South China Sea. The visit to Da Nang by the
USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier is one of three prongs in U.S. military strategy.
These prongs are: continuous naval presence patrols, continuous bomber presence
patrols, and freedom of navigation operational patrols.
U.S. policy documents also identify Vietnam as a priority strategic partner. The visit of
the USS Theodore Roosevelt is a demonstration of U.S. commitment to the region and
that its presence in the South China Sea is welcomed by Vietnam.
Q2. What are the implications for the next steps in U.S - Vietnam bilateral relations
following this event, especially defense cooperation?
ANSWER: In March 2018, Da Nang hosted a visit by the first U.S. aircraft carrier since
the Vietnam War. In 2019, the United States pressed Vietnam to approve annual visits
by a U.S. aircraft carrier as part of a U.S. diplomatic push to raise bilateral relations to
a strategic partnership. The USS Theodore Roosevelt marks the second visit by a U.S.
Navy aircraft carrier and comes after last year’s stand-off between Vietnam and China
in the waters near Vanguard Bank. It underscores an important policy declaration in
the 2019 Viet Nam National Defence White Book that “Viet Nam will consider
developing necessary, appropriate defence and military relations with other
countries…”
Q3. This is the second time a U.S carrier has visited Vietnam since the end of the war.
Beside that, the USS Theodore Roosevelt has just finished renovation and deployed to
the West Pacific. Does Washington aim to send a message from such move?
ANSWER: The United States Indo-Pacific Command has a long-standing policy of
conducting continuous naval presence patrols in the South China Sea. The visit of the
USS Theodore Roosevelt is an example of this policy in action. The U.S. is
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demonstrating that it will fly and sail over and on the South China Sea where ever
international law allows. This is a direct challenge to China that seeks to keep foreign
countries out of the waters enclosed in its nine-dash line claim.
Q4. With the Philippines withdrawing from the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and
the U.S looking to strengthen their partnerships in the region, will Washington adjust
its strategy and which role will Vietnam play in these new circumstances?
ANSWER: Washington will privately negotiate with the Philippines to prevent the
termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). This agreement provided the legal
basis for the temporary deployment of U.S. military forces in the Philippines. U.S.
aircraft carriers and other major warships regularly visited the Philippines.
If relations with the Philippines deteriorate to the extent that the VFA is terminated,
this will raise the importance of U.S. access to ports in Vietnam on a regular basis. This
would require Vietnam to change its policy of allowing foreign countries one friendly
port call per year. The United States will step up its lobbying efforts with Vietnam to
secure this objective.
Unfortunately, the recent cancellation of the U.S.-ASEAN Special Meeting of leaders
in mid-March is an opportunity lost for President Donald Trump to raise this matter
privately with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc who was scheduled to attend this
meeting.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “USS Theodore Roosevelt to Visit Da Nang,


Vietnam,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, March 2, 2020. All background briefs
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Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and
other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially
registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.